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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 6, 2011 6:08pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: limited by the audience?

(Some of this will repeat earlier posts of mine, sorry about the repetition...)

I think the band were limited by their audience in the early '70s, but I don't think any of them objected to it - if anything, they seemed to revel in the limitations.

Weir in particular has spoken about this, about how the band's music was getting too ingrown by '74 and losing the audience since no one could relate to the jams anymore (at least that was his perception) - and Jerry as well as Weir wanted the audience to follow them, and wasn't willing to push the audience too much, aside from a few of those extended full-band Seastones sets...

And there's Weir's comment how the band sometimes attempted Miles Davis-style fusion:
"Bitches Brew was groove-oriented and a clear lightpost, so we did that stuff in rehearsal all the time. We could also pull it off on stage from time to time."
Q: Did the audience always follow?
"We would take the temperature of the audience and though nobody ever discussed it, there was an understanding...that there is only so much of this that we are going to get away with, because for the most part, the audience came to hear songs. And of course we loved to deliver songs."

To me that's frustrating - I can only imagine the band doing some Miles covers in '74! But it seems the band saw the "songs" part of the show as being more accessible, and the "big jam" more of a luxury that should be kept within bounds, and sometimes dispensed with entirely...

Of course I wish the band had spent '73-74 doing more hour-long space sets, dropping all those cowboy tunes, etc... But if there's anything the Dead wanted to do, it was to connect with their audience. As youngsters in '67/68, they were happy to just freak out & play hardcore non-recognizable stuff for a whole show - but as they got older & mellower, they wanted to reach out with more accessible material. (Mickey Hart has a good comment on this somewhere that I'll look up.)

As early as '67, Jerry was scoffing at the idea that the Dead was a "psychedelic" band and claimed, 'We're really just a dance band,' and even talked about how the dancers improved the band's music. And even decades later in the Phil & Friends days, Phil was saying that the greatest honor for a musician was to play to dancers...

It is hard to say what Jerry would have done if he had dropped the Dead - but it's harder not to notice that after '75, both inside and outside the Dead, he drops much of the "experimental" stuff and goes for more straightforward music, becoming ever more traditional over time.
Jerry once called himself musically conservative, saying that although he was fascinated by technical weirdness (he cited Blues for Allah), as he got older he preferred the emotional side of music - which may be why we see him doing more traditional stuff after the coma.

While Jerry let his freak flag fly through the early '70s (Side Trips, 1/26/72, 11/28/73 or his Seastones sets are proof of that), being "weird" was one color on his palette, not what he wanted to do all the time. By the '90s, it was David Grisman he wanted to call up, not Ned Lagin or Howard Wales. I get the feeling he wanted to relax outside the Dead....maybe if there had been no Dead, we would have seen different kinds of Jerry weirdness.

And while Jerry was happy to accompany Phil on his outside journeys, there's also a feeling that there's only so much freeform space that Jerry himself would put up with within the Dead. While Weir is the most notorious for cutting off jams too soon, I think Jerry's sense of structure also determined that within a Dead show, a spacy segment would always soon head back to a familiar tune. (And I suspect that it was mainly due to Jerry that '90s Dead shows weren't structured more like, say, Phil & Friends shows....)

This was a pertinent comment from another forum:
"It's not like any of Jerry's regular side projects, pre or post-hiatus, were playing anything close to the kind of "experimental" music that the Dead were...only the stuff he did with Howard Wales seems to approach the intentional chaos that the Dead regularly flirted with... His own band always played it much straighter in terms of a "conventional music aesthetic" than the Dead did at any point in their career. If the guy really wanted to play avant-garde experimental music, then it doesn't make sense that he would have chosen to front what was essentially a bar/club cover band in his spare time... [In '75] I think the Dead all understood on some level that playing music as avant-garde as Blues For Allah or Seastones wasn't going to sustain them for very long."

The paradox is that later on, the band were quite complimentary of the audience - Hart and Garcia in particular have many comments in the '80s about how great it is to play for people who're always supportive & patient, who never object or boo, & how it gave the band "freedom" to do what they wanted. The irony being that by the time they made those comments, the band was doing less and less "outside" music!

It's worth remembering, though, that for all the band's possibilities might have been limited by being a "rock" band with a big popular audience, they still liked to jam, and frequently...we have hours & hours of Dark Stars & Playings, etc, from '72-74 alone. And that's what many in the audience loved them for and came to hear. For everyone in the audience who might've been snoozing through those endless nonsensical noodlings, there were probably two or three more who were transfixed & cheering at every glorious transition.

There's another thing to remember, too - while we all wish that the band had played more of one style or another ("oh, why didn't they do this?"), everyone in the band wished the same. Garcia pointed out that the band's music wasn't anyone's choice of what they wanted it to be - it was what they all could agree on. Lesh also said, "Nobody ever gets exactly what he wants from the Grateful Dead.”

Lesh was often upset with the others, that they couldn't play up to the standards he wanted, that they weren't listening to each other enough or willing to put more thought into the jams. "With the Grateful Dead, there’s more possible than you could ever dream of – even I could ever dream of. That’s what’s frustrating."
But he admitted that the Dead had a lot more variety by being pulled so many different directions, and if they had a "leader" their music would just become more narrow.

While Garcia saw the friction between what different bandmembers wanted, and was often disappointed in the "tension & discordancy" he heard in shows where they couldn't musically agree, he nonetheless found it rewarding to stay in an environment where everyone had their say and the music could go in more unexpected, challenging directions.
He referred to the "fixable quality" of the band: "Everybody feels this, people in the audience feel it regularly, that ‘if I could just get everybody to do what I wanted them to do, or do it the way they did it that night, it would be perfect.’"
But everyone in the band insisted that couldn't be done...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 6, 2011 7:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: the virtues of deliberate musical perversity

All great and relevant comments. I don't think anyone here will object to you reusing various quotes and repeating points - if we can stand to listen to hundreds of performances of the same songs by the same band, we should be able to enjoy some repetition of relevant quotations as well.

I love the element of "orneriness" in the band. I have a certain amount of fondness for some aspects of the band that is almost because of, not in spite of, the "ugliness". I'm thinking not of the prime early 70s dissonant jamming in this case, but more of things like the bizarreness of aspects of Weir.

One example is Weir's extremely peculiar falsetto vocal improvs attached to songs like Looks Like Rain, Estimated Prophet, Sunshine Daydream - this is something a lot of listeners absolutely hate, and I understand why they hate it, it sounds TERRIBLE and more or less absurd and incomprehensible. Despite this, I think it is great, and its greatness is inherent in how ugly and bizarre it is from a musical standpoint. Did Weir actually think these strangulated yelps sounded good?

Despite their obvious awfulness, I think Weir's vocalizations actually are actually artistically justified within the larger context of the music. There is a directness and intensity that I respond to, and I also don't mind the appearance of humor in music. I often laugh out loud at a ferociously shrieked "na - NA NA NANA!!!!" coming out of Estimated, its like surrealism. Definitely an acquired taste, nothing makes non-Dead listeners go WTF!? more than a middle-aged Bobby scat-singing freakout.

I'm less tolerant of Weir's slide playing in most cases, but sometimes I think its at its best when its at its worst - there is a certain "fireworks in the nitrous factory" sound to some of the more out-of-tune rapid slides at the top of the neck.